Report: Mobile home parks need help
By STEVE ZIND
Vermont public Radio | December 16,2013
MONTPELIER — State officials are recommending steps to improve mobile home parks and protect them from future floods.
The recommendations are included in a report that details many of the difficulties faced by mobile home park residents in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene. Park residents comprise one-third of mobile home occupants in Vermont.
Cleanup and disposal of destroyed homes, compensation for lost property, and affordable financing to purchase new mobile homes were all urgent needs post-Irene.
But mobile home owners found they were falling through cracks of existing programs, or they discovered there weren’t programs designed for their situation.
In response, money was raised to pay for the disposal of flooded homes, a new loan program helps with the purchase of new ones and designs for energy efficient, resilient homes were rolled out.
The Legislature also passed a bill calling for a study of the problems Irene brought to the fore. The “Report On The Viability And Disaster Resilience Of Mobile Home Ownership And Parks” was released Wednesday.
Among the two dozen recommendations are some that are low cost and relatively easy to implement. For example, the study finds that few towns have provisions for mobile homes in their emergency plans.
“Only 13 percent of communities currently include mobile home parks and the issues particular to mobile homes in their emergency plans and we really think that could be a big benefit to the future if they’re thought about ahead of time,” says Jen Hollar, deputy commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development, which issued the study.
The report points out that because many mobile home owners rent lots in privately owned parks, they are both homeowners and tenants. As tenants they have little control over park conditions.
“There are anecdotal reports that roads in some MHPs (mobile home parks) are consistently troublesome,” the report says. “Particularly those that are unpaved during mud season. Some parks have been refused mail service due to poor road conditions but no park has yet been denied emergency response due to road conditions.”
The study says the state should consider requiring that park infrastructure is adequate, for example, to make sure emergency vehicles have access.
Some problems are not so easily solved. About 12 percent of homes in mobile home parks are in flood hazard areas and relocating vulnerable parks is an expensive proposition further complicated by a lack of suitable new sites.
Hollar says the state hopes to use FEMA Hazard Mitigation funds and other grant money to keep homes from being relocated in flooded areas.
“Where possible we’re trying to pursue buyouts for those, so where they were destroyed those parks aren’t rebuilt and people placed back into harm’s way,” says Hollar.
The study points out that there are FEMA programs that could have been used to better effect to help mobile home owners. It says two programs in particular “went largely unknown immediately following Irene.”
One, FEMA’s Direct Housing Program, could help relocate a mobile home park within two months of a disaster declaration.
The study also takes a step back to look at larger issues, like the decline in the number of mobile home parks in Vermont. Since 2001, there has been a net decrease of 16 parks.
The study says one answer is the creation of more resident-owned parks and it recommends state support for that solution.
Emily Higgins, director of home ownership with Champlain Housing Trust, called the report a “good analysis of the current conditions in Vermont,” and says it “provides some thoughtful, forward-looking recommendations for how to make manufactured home ownership more safe, equitable, attainable, and resilient in the future.”